In a deeply moving description of being sent into the “sacred grown-up land” of the Local Bar in Freehold New Jersey, by his mom as a kid, to retrieve his thirsty dad, Bruce Springsteen sent me time traveling to my childhood…
In 1980, I was 11 years old and like the Boss I too had a fascinating and endearing relationship with a local seaside bar, actually a “Rock’n Roll Ballroom” known as The Frolics at Salisbury beach.The Frolics at that time was anything but a ballroom. It was a very old building held up by even older wood pilings hovering just above the sand and the incoming cold Atlantic. It sat adjacent to arcades, fried dough stands, french fry huts and across the board walk from a fortune teller.
Inside the Frolics the carpets were worn and filthy, the lack of air conditioning made the wet salty air even thicker and carried the smell of booze, bathrooms and tobacco throughout the joint. The floor would rumble when the surf was big as it flowed right underneath the building. The only things left from its swanky hay-day, decades earlier, were pictures that lined the lobby of the famous big bands and celebrities of the 40’s and 50’s who played there.
The building and the gritty honky tonk board walk that lead to it’s front door wasn’t what made the Frolics so prolific for me, it was the athletic, tough, quit witted, soldiers of fortune who earned $25 a night to checked id’s, clear the walk ways and handle the rebels, bikers and wild patrons. These bouncers first put up with me and soon took an interest in me and then allowed me into their world, their family.
I will save the long story of how a very young kid came to spend every single night of the next 5 summers, cruising the hallways, dance floor, back stage area, the jello pit (on Tuesday’s) and the side lounge all the while sipping bottomless glasses of 7-up, and cranberry juice. Instead just a thought or two on the men who worked there that became so essential to my life’s story.
Just about everything you can imagine that could go on in a big, dark, dirty, rock’n roll bar did go on. But because of the protective eyes, keen ears and uncanny ability to detect trouble of the bouncers, I walked untouched through and around fights, con deals, drug deals, and all sorts of debauchery in an invisible protected bubble.
I didn’t take my safety for granted, a lot of very bad things could have happened but one of the benefits of spending time with these protectors is I learned how to spot and navigate trouble. I was trained to smell trouble before it happened, always have an out and unleash every dirty trick in the book if I ever needed to defend and protect myself, including running like hell.
There where push up contests on slow nights, food and coffee runs on my part which put some pretty good tips in young boy’s pocket, random feats of strength and informal educational sessions about how to spot con man and the nuances of how to talk to waitresses or pretty girls of interest. There was practical jokes and there was always lots and lots of laughter.
The time I spent roaming the Frolics and hanging in Murph’s lounge next door when the owner of The Frolics decided his bar was no place for a kid, was a long magical trail of my youth. Along the trail I learned self defense, self reliance, discernment, survival skills and how identify bs and how to treat a friend. Even more edifying than the education, was how good it felt to be around good men who took an interest me. It was fun, not exactly kid fun but fun and that’s what my I needed, especially those first few summers.
The guys at the Frolics took me in as family, being with them made me feel safe and excited about the simple things in life, something that had gone away a bit when my biological dad passed away a couple years before.
Being allowed into this fraternity of men as a small boy, and building meaningful relationships with these wild men was exactly what my deflated pioneer’s spirit and broken heart needed at that time and it is one of the things that has made all the difference in my life.
I believe the most profound education almost always occurs outside the classroom and that it is definitely true that members of the same family rarely grow up under the same roof.